Immigrants “Poisoning Our Blood” Is An Old Refrain – In America

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Repairing our broken national immigration system in such a poisonous political environment, especially during an election year may be well-nigh impossible. (That doesn’t mean we stop trying. Learn more at UU’s for Social Justice.) But that leaves it to the states to take action, however limited, to help solve the problem. Maryland is taking the lead – taking advantage of the State Innovation Waiver program in the Affordable Care Act. The program allows states to file a Section 1332 waiver to experiment with ways to expand access to health care for its residents. During last year’s General Assembly legislative session, a bill requiring the state to file for a waiver, was unable to get out of committee. This year will be different. We’ll succeed.

Stay tuned. You can learn more at the UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland’s Annual Kickoff Meeting. Also visit Policy Agenda

We see the nightly broadcasts – heck, it’s almost 24/7 – of images from our southern border, desperate men, women, children marching to the remaining open passes to enter the country, lined up, camped out on the other side of a razor-wire laden river. We hear politicians ranting about the “poisoning of our blood.” It’s not new.

Four months from now, May 26, will be the one-hundredth anniversary of the implementation of what was perhaps the most restrictive immigration statute in U.S. history, the 1924 Immigration Act.

Prescott Hall, a lawyer and founder of the Immigration Restriction League, who advocated successfully for the Immigration Act of 1917 that imposed literacy tests on immigrants and barred immigration from Asia and Pacific Islands, argued for the enactment of the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924 that imposed a ban on most immigrants from Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe. Hall asserted in 1919 that the League of Nations (in which the U.S. declined membership) might “limit the right of any nation to decide who shall be admitted into its life” and was therefore, “a threat to the soul of the nation. Immigration restriction,” he continued, “is a species of segregation of a large scale by which inferior stocks can be prevented from both diluting and supplanting good stocks.” Hall’s beliefs were codified in these two acts as the “culmination of over forty years debate about immigration restriction” and the” racial makeup” of American society. (JAH)

The 1921 Act, also known as the Per Centum Law, was a response to the fear of communism and mass migration from Europe after World War I. By using percentages based on the 1910 census it ensured that immigrants from Northern and Western Europe would have higher quotas than those from Eastern and Southern Europe, effectively reducing the number of immigrants from these latter regions. The 1924 Act, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act further reduced the quotas, basing the percentages on the earlier 1890 census that included even fewer people from Eastern and Southern Europe. The message was obvious: as former President Trump complained in 2018 about people from “s—hole countries com[ing] here, we should have more people from Norway.” (NPR) These quotas remained in effect until well after the devastation of World War II. If your name ends in a vowel, unless you’re from Norway, consider yourself fortunate that your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents were able to squeeze through these tightened quotas.

No one disputes that our immigration system is broken. Some have tried to fix it. Maryland, for example, made higher education accessible to DACA recipients and extended access to neo-natal and post-natal health care for undocumented immigrants. California has extended health care via MediCal to undocumented immigrants as well. The Biden Administration has recently established “safe mobility offices” in Latin American countries to offer free screening for legal entry into the U.S. for asylum seekers and refugees as well as those with special job skills. The program is intended to counter the unsafe smuggling that many face. Immigration, however, has become a partisan tool where fear and the politics of resentment and grievance dominate. Although a new civil war that some claim is upon us, is unlikely, there is a war between the states – Texas and Florida on one side versus large northern cities on the other – as busloads of migrants are shipped to Chicago, New York, Denver and as cities counter with lawsuits against bus companies.

Yours in faith and justice,

Jim Caldiero, Lead Advocate, Immigration, UULMMD


Kevin Kenny, “Mobility and Sovereignty: The Nineteenth Century Origins of Immigration Restriction.” Journal of American History (JAH), Vol. 109, No.2, 284-297, September 1, 2022,

Nurith Aisenman, NPR, “Trump Wishes We Had More Immigrants From Norway,” January 12, 2018.